Recession, Yemen, and mail

It is January. Christmas is over, and I am wiped. A few of the reasons for this are largely personal –my brother, for example, has been in the Yemen for the last four months learning Arabic. A boy with little grasp of geo-politics, he floats above the plane of awareness on matters such as the Israeli siege of Gaza, and the propensity of Southern Yemeni pirates towards kidnapping white people. The few photos he sends home generally depict him manning submachine guns on his troupe’s military escort; the soldiers appear truculent, quietly thinking up better ways to extort their passengers. Mum and Dad aren’t taking it well.

But this Christmas has been an exemplum of plenary grief too. Of course the recession has been a bitch. I can already count on two hands the number of high-street shops gasping their last breath in my town. Depressing as it is to walk past such numerous terminal cases, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for those shops suffering the ignominy of ‘95% Off’ signs plastered over their windows. At least I’ve refrained from becoming a post-Christmas bargain hunter –a malignantly zealous breed- as the exhausted shops are repeatedly defiled in search of that last ‘Mamma Mia Soundtrack’ CD.

My biggest concern however was neither of these things. Our Labour government made the baffling decision to close a large number of Post Office branches earlier this year. These mass closures came into effect in November. My local post office was one of those to be shut. Of course, we’d all petitioned to keep it open, but the government turned a blind eye to the democratic wishes of its people and instead listened to the crackpot economists advising them that closures would be a grand idea. The government seems to be on some Thatcherite mission with regards to our beloved Royal Mail, and this decision is really best seen in its agonising context.

Firstly, my town’s central post office was kicked out of its premises to a smaller site, and the original listed building was converted into a Starbucks. This was about a year ago. I burst a blood vessel in my rage back then, and the wound has yet to heal. Next they decided to shut down a number of outlying local branches. Now I hear of renewed efforts to sell off a stake in Royal Mail, thus privatising (or partially privatising) a British institution that traces its heritage back to 1516. And all of this in the run-up to Christmas, the busiest time of the year, and thus the period in which it’s most vital to have an efficient postal service.

I could tell ghastly tales of the queues that ran down the street as people from miles around came to post presents and letters, but this isn’t my chief concern. Most broadly, the Post Office fiasco indicates the ignorance of those who took the decision to close branches in the first place. The economic rationale takes nothing into account of the societal value these local branches have. When we question how our society has broken down, it is through decisions like these; when we wonder how it is that the elderly go unnoticed or neglected, it is crass, centralising decisions like these that pull away those vestiges of local, human contact, and serve to compound the isolation many already feel. It is Thatcherite economics without any regard for social consequences, and it should be admonished. I only hope 2009 will bring good news for our postal service.

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